Melanie Roth Gorelick claimed victory in a pre-Super Bowl push to draw attention to human trafficking.
As leader of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking and director of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s Community Relations Committee, Gorelick said the almost two-year-long campaign led to community mobilization and raised awareness of what she and others calls “modern-day slavery.”
The campaign “was an amazing experience. We mobilized and educated thousands of people,” she said following the Feb. 2 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. “We engaged with people from many different communities and walks of life. It was an interethnic, interfaith effort. We enlisted government officials, legislators, and law enforcement people.”
Some 50 police agencies including the FBI ran a sting operation that succeeded in rescuing 16 adolescents, some as young as 13. In addition the FBI announced on Feb. 6 that more than 45 pimps and their associates were arrested with some admitting to having forced young people across state lines to engage in sex trafficking.
The success of this action, said Gorelick, “was great.”
Assisting law enforcement efforts was a broad-based effort by the coalition, composed of civics groups; women’s clubs; organizations from Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Unitarian Universalist churches; and Jewish groups, including the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, the Northern New Jersey Region of Hadassah, and five sections of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Many of them came together at game time to press their campaign while the game was actually being played.
Using several varieties of social media, the coalition “blasted about one million people during halftime at the Super Bowl,” Gorelick said. The volunteers logged onto a social media tool called “Thunderclap,” which interconnects users at a specific time “so everybody in your group signs up under one heading,” she said. “The coalition’s was ‘#htchallenge.’ We monitored it, and we know we reached one million people. People sent out different messages about trafficking on Facebook and Twitter and other venues. We felt amazingly successful about it.”
Other members of the coalition hosted or attended human trafficking awareness gatherings, putting their activism to use even as the game was being broadcast. “Before the Thunderclap moment, some 500 people volunteered to discuss the issue at viewing parties after asking that the volume be lowered so they could get everyone’s attention,” said Gorelick.
One major aspect of their campaign was the SOAP program — an acronym for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. Some 450 volunteers met in Paramus with its founder, Theresa Flores, the weekend prior to the Super Bowl. They then distributed bars of soap bearing the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s phone number on the wrappers to 300 hotels and motels in New York and New Jersey.
“It was so exciting. It really made a difference. I knew it had when we did the soap, because people came from all over to participate,” said Gorelick. She said the coalition has not finished following up with hotel managers to check on how effective the program turned out to be.
Gorelick expects the coalition’s work to continue for a long time.
“We want to make sure this is a 365-days-a-year issue and continue to maintain a focus on this issue at a high level,” Gorelick explained. “We are going to continue to move forward as an abolitionist movement and keep in contact with government officials and grassroots groups that are working on this issue.”
In a special outreach to the Jewish community, the CRC and the Jewish Women’s Foundation will hold a program on Friday, March 28, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
JWF cochair Lesley Frost said the event “is a preview to Passover,” which this year begins the evening of April 14. “It is called ‘We Were Slaves: Jews United Against Sex Trafficking.’ It will focus on the white slave trade, where Jewish women were the targets in the 19th century and were moved from one country to another to serve as prostitutes.”
A Jewish survivor of trafficking and Jewish experts — among them Rabbi Levi Lauer, a founder of the Israeli group Atzum-Justice Works, which fights, among its other targets, human trafficking — will speak before a strategy session.